New gender benchmarking study finds numbers of women in science and technology fields alarmingly low

October 3, 2012, Elsevier

In the first study of its kind, researchers have found that numbers of women in the science, technology and innovation fields are alarmingly low in the world's leading economies, and are actually on the decline in others, including the United States. The study maps the opportunities and obstacles faced by women in science across the US, EU, Brazil, South Africa, India, Korea and Indonesia. It was conducted by experts in international gender, science and technology issues from Women in Global Science & Technology and the Organization for Women in Science for the Developing World, and funded by the Elsevier Foundation.

Despite efforts by many of these countries to give women greater access to education, research shows negative results, particularly in the areas of engineering, physics and computer science. Women remain severely under-represented in degree programs for these fields—less than 30% in most countries. In addition, the numbers of women actually working in these fields are declining across the board. Even in countries where the numbers of women studying science and technology have increased, it has not translated into more women in the workplace.

"These economies are operating under the existing paradigm that if we give girls and women greater access to education they will eventually gain parity with men in these fields," states Sophia Huyer, the lead researcher and founding executive director of Women in & Technology. "This has dictated our approach to the problem for over a decade and we are still only seeing incremental changes. The report indicates that access to education is not a solution in and of itself. It's only one part of what should be a multi-dimensional policymaking approach. There is no simple solution."

The data show that women's parity in the science, technology and innovation fields is tied to multiple empowerment factors, with the most influential being higher economic status, larger roles in government and politics, access to economic, productive and technological resources, quality healthcare and financial resources. Findings also show that women have greater parity in countries with government policies that support health and childcare, equal pay, and gender mainstreaming. One of the main findings is that few countries collect consistent and reliable sex-disaggregated data in all of these areas, which inhibits their ability to implement effective enabling policies and programmes.

"We found that the absence of any one of these elements creates a situation of vulnerability for economies that want to be competitively positioned in the knowledge economy," Huyer says. "No one country or region is ticking off all the boxes, and some are falling dismally short. This is a tremendous waste of resources. We are wasting resources educating women without following through, and we are missing out on the enormous potential that women represent."

"This broad and ambitious assessment is a critical starting point for measuring the participation of women and girls in science, technology and innovation in emerging and developing worlds," said David Ruth, Executive Director of the Elsevier Foundation, "This study identifies key areas of national strength and weakness, and we hope it will help form the basis of evidence-based policy making and aid going forward."

Spearheaded by Women in Global Science & Technology and the Organization for for the Developing World, the report was funded by The Elsevier Foundation, which provides grant programs targeting women scientists in the early stages of their careers. It was also supported by, a non-profit that supports initiatives that strengthen systems in Canada and around the world.

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4 / 5 (4) Oct 03, 2012
How about that dirty word, sexual-dimorphism. It always amazes some folks how biology sometimes refuses to respect their ideological assumptions. If one looks at the health and life sciences, he will find a rather large percentage of women doing research: could it be that most girls don't LIKE math and physics?
2 / 5 (8) Oct 03, 2012
Well, the obvious solution therefore is a Title IX type program, where we make certain that the same amount of money must be spent on recruiting women, with the only acceptable outcome being equal participation by all eleven known genders in all the fields of scientific endeavor. If necessary, combine it with all the best elements of affirmative action, like lower test scores and using life experiences as positives in qualifying.

It worked so well in sports, what could go wrong if it was used in the sciences, right?
3 / 5 (2) Oct 03, 2012
I'm alarmed at the under-representation of women in other fields too!
For instance I've never had a women come to empty my septic tank. I wonder why the feminists aren't pulling out their hair and jumping up and down about that!
3.7 / 5 (3) Oct 03, 2012
How many girls/women are discussing here? Which women willingly maintain a technical blog, YT video or private web about physics, electronics or programming?
1 / 5 (1) Oct 08, 2012

I think you have a really good point. It's hard to claim that educational bias would affect what people do in their spare time, especially when the activities have relatively little to do with class-room subjects that are offered.

What the authors faild to consider is that a declining ratio of women in science may be a sign that when economy allows it, women will tend to enroll in subject which they find interesting. If your only choice is poverty of doing something that you find boring, you will go for boring every time.

This is probably the reason why women in science declines in step with the increase of wealth..
1 / 5 (1) Oct 08, 2012

You can also flip it around. There are inumerous women running blogs for fashon or lifestile, so it cannot be that women are generally shunning the internet. Where is the educational "bias" to make this happen?

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